Croatia has some of its food products protected at both a national and European level, their status designated by their unique place of origin. Zagorje mlinci (Zagorski mlinci) is one of them.
To Croatia's past visitors, much of the country's geography will look familiar; beautiful coastline, edged by crystal clear waters, softly-inclining landscapes of rolling vineyards and olive groves, the epic colours of the Dinaric Alps which provide such a pretty backdrop to photos taken on the beach, the spectacular waterfalls of the national parks, hilltop towns in Istria peaking above an early morning mist or the seemingly endless flatlands of the Pannonian basin in which Croatia's eastern lands lie.
But, if you arrive by plane to the main Franjo Tuđman airport in Zagreb, you may well be surprised by what you see out of the window just before you land. An extraordinary landscape of richly-green agricultural land, dotted with small villages and towns, occasionally divided by forest and, most spectacular of all, a range of impossibly-pretty hills which remind of old England or the vista J. R. R. Tolkien might have imagined when writing about The Shire in 'The Hobbit' and 'Lord of the Rings'. This is Zagorje.
Anyone looking for authentic Croatia need look no further than Zagorje. Having experienced less subjugation by invading empires, for instance, the Ottomans or the Italians, the region has been less affected by imposed, outside culture. Unlike Međimurje, Baranja and Slavonia, in whose cuisine lies the distinct influence of Hungary, or the coastal regions of Dalmatia and Istra where the pastas and pizzas of Italy are at home, the cuisine of Zagorje has developed with little interference other than what it's possible to produce from its rich land. If any outside influence exists, it surely comes from the more standard European palette of Slovenia.
Zagorje in Croatian means 'land behind the hills'. But, although the great Medvednica mountain separates Zagorje from the city of Zagreb, this natural barrier is permeable to the daily deliveries of fresh produce and their use which the region gifts Croatia's capital. Zagreb cuisine is essentially Zagorje cuisine.
There are no wild or outlandish ingredients to the thin, baked sheets of pasta that are Zagorje mlinci – it's just water, salt and flour. Cooked on a hot plate, like a flatbread from the east, the absence of any raising agent means mlinci do not rise in preparation. They just dry, crisp up and develop a few brown spots (which is the way to tell if they're homemade). They are traditionally served with meat dishes, the sheets being split up into strips or shards and recooked in the juices and fats of the bird or joint that you're roasting. The dish is particularly popular with roast chicken and the traditional accompaniment to roasted Zagorje turkey, a Christmastime favourite.
Click here to find out what European recognition does for Croatian produce and see all of Croatia's best delicacies which are protected